Moderate Republican lawmakers distanced themselves on Thursday from the racist video shared by President Donald Trump’s campaign, with at least one House member saying the video is endangering vulnerable GOP candidates fighting to keep the party’s House majority.
The video, which was tweeted by Trump six days before the midterm elections, accuses Democrats, without evidence, of plotting to help people it depicts as Central American invaders overrun the nation with cop killers.
Florida Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who has opposed parts of Trump’s agenda in the past, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Newsroom” that the ad is politically divisive.
“It’s definitely part of a divide and conquer strategy that a lot of politicians, including the President, have used successfully in the past,” he told Sciutto. “I hope this doesn’t work. I hope that type of strategy starts failing in our country, but that’s up to the American people.”
“If we continue getting divided, if our politics continues growing more and more violent, our democracy is going to be at real risk,” he added.
Rep. Ryan Costello, who is not planning to seek re-election for his Pennsylvania seat, told CNN on Thursday that the ad and the overall tone Trump has struck on immigration “doesn’t make me happy.”
“I can’t imagine anybody in a close district wants the closing argument to be immigration,” Costello said. “Your local message is in competition with what the President is talking about.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who’s also not seeking re-election, called the video “sickening.”
“This is a sickening ad,” tweeted Flake, who has been a regular Trump critic. “Republicans everywhere should denounce it.”
The web video – produced for the Trump campaign – features Luis Bracamontes, a Mexican man who had been deported but returned to the United States and was convicted in February in the slaying of two California deputies.
“I’m going to kill more cops soon,” a grinning Bracamontes is shown saying in court as captions flash across the screen reading, “Democrats let him into our country. Democrats let him stay.”
The ad is a part of an ongoing effort by Republicans to make immigration their key issue before next week’s election. In support of this effort, the President has constantly publicly denigrated a group of Central American migrants headed for the United States.
On Monday, the Pentagon announced that it was sending 5,200 troops and a slew of military equipment to the southern border to stop the migrants. On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that up to 15,000 additional US troops could be sent there to deal with the group of approximately 3,500 migrants.
Curbelo told Sciutto that such a move is “clearly an overreaction.”
“What we need is smart border security. And we need to invest more at the border with new technology, observation towers, drones, some physical barrier, for sure, and make that part of a compromise to provide a path to citizenship for Dreamers in our country,” he said.
Costello, who has also been critical of Trump in the past, told CNN that he doubts the President’s focus on immigration will attract crucial swing voters next week.
“I don’t think people are going to say that ‘I need to go vote Republican because we need to stop those 5,000 Guatemalans from crossing the border in Texas,’ ” Costello said, adding, “Call me naive.”
CNN’s Stephen Collinson, Barbara Starr, Ryan Browne, Allie Malloy and Zachary Cohen contributed reporting.